Q: My new partner and I are so in love I can hardly believe it. Is this real?
A: Well, of course it is. You’re feeling it, so it’s real enough. When we fall in love like that, we know it, and the force of it is undeniable.
So, I’ll freely indulge my “columnist-guru-have-all-the-answers” persona, and actually take a shot at the “question of love.“ Much of the following, I expect, is going to be no surprise, but it’s funny how easily we can forget some of it.
The beginning of a big romance is the easy part. You’re telling your stories, steeped in the newness of discovering each other, it’s easy to give each other complete, unconditional acceptance, you want to be together every possible moment, you’re amazed at how natural it is, and the sex is fantastic. Who wouldn’t want that to last forever?!
The early romantic explosion needs to be understood as a first stage. It simply doesn’t last. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way it is—and should be. Too many couples (or individuals) fall into the trap of thinking that the early romance was “not real” once the bloom comes off the rose. When the fuse doesn’t light so easily anymore. When the honeymoon is over. When the thrill is gone. So they bail out, wait for the next big love, the cycle repeats, and they end up disillusioned about love, afraid to try again.
This is the message of the myth of Tristan and Isolde, who fall in love, and run off to the forest, isolating themselves from the world, thinking they only need each other. Ultimately, they learn that their love belongs in the real world to which they must return.
The time inevitably arrives when you have to start dealing with each other’s family and friends, making lifestyle decisions, or figuring out how to handle money. And when your lover starts reminding you of aspects of your mother or father that aren’t so comfortable, you’re going to need to dig down deep for all the love you can to keep yourself from running away!
Once, in the early stage of a new relationship, I went around asking every couple I could how they met. It was incredible how many of them said that they just knew from the start that they would stay together. Love at first sight is possible and shouldn’t be minimized.
These couples understood that the early fireworks wouldn’t carry them through a lifetime. They knew that they would start encountering their “issues” and that it takes a lot of trust and communication to monopolize on their grand beginning. They saw their early romance as a foundation for what was to come.
Disappointing? Not at all. When we see early love as a foundation, we accept the work of truly getting to know our partner, are willing to risk vulnerability, and think in terms of making a whole life together—life with all of the confusion and frailties that are innately human. The mutual acceptance and commitment that sprouts from that foundation feeds the love, deepens the bond, makes for the possibility of true life partnership.
It’s worth surrendering a bit of the idealistic splendor of the beginning in exchange for this. (But you don’t have to give it all up. Romance is always great.)
That said, some people are just not meant to be together. It’s possible to have a sweet romance, but as you get into the meat of making a real relationship and have given it your best effort, sometimes you have to be willing to say, “This is not what’s meant for us. Let’s stay friends before it goes too far.” No, it’s not easy.
So, what’s the disability angle on this? Well, because people with disabilities often feel disregarded as partners simply because of a disability, there is a greater potential to either grasp too firmly on it when it happens, or be afraid to trust that it’s real, as you say in your question. In either case the result is the same—you’re not going to be truly present with that person. You risk misunderstanding the real dynamics of the relationship and how it wants to evolve. If you’ve been having a hard time finding a partner (not exclusive to disability, for sure) and finally connect with someone, don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “This has to work! I may not get another chance.”
Love is real. It’s truly at the center of everything in the universe. When we get through all of our fears and assumptions and stories about our past, it’s the only thing that’s constant. When you fall in love big time, it could mean you’ve found a true partner in working your way closer and closer to living your life in terms of that love. A love that extends beyond your partner and yourself into your community and the rest of the world.
Responses are by noted author, speaker and recreational juggler Gary Karp, whose books include Disability and the Art of Kissing. Karp has been honored by induction into the Spinal Cord Hall of Fame as a disability educator. Find out more about Karp at Modern Disability.
Copyright 2007, Gary Lawrence Karp